A draft plan for the Chetek-Weyerhaeuser Area School District to reopen for face-to-face classes in the fall was sent out to the families of students on Monday evening, July 25, after the C-W Board of Education reviewed the plan.
Schools were closed in March as the coronavirus outbreak began in Wisconsin. Over the summer, school administrators and school boards across the state have working on plans for how their districts will hold classes when the school year starts again in late summer.
[Click on the PDF to read the draft plan. The story continues below.]
Superintendent Mark Johnson said administrators have been working with local and state officials and reviewing national resources for reopening. Barron County schools, along with Barron County Public Health, have developed a common reopening plan that they are basing their separate district plans on. From there, C-W will develop individual building plans for the high, middle and elementary buildings to fit specific instructional needs at each grade level.
Johnson said seven or eight plans were narrowed down to three main plans with different types of instruction: in-person and at-school with precautions like physical distancing, blended/individual distance learning where students in quarantine receive virtual instruction in real-time and virtual learning for entire classrooms, grades or school buildings during larger closures.
A survey of school families in early July showed that a majority of parents were in favor of in-person, at-school classes for five days a week, Johnson said. That is what the district was anticipating, but the situation could change by the expected first day of school on Sept. 1.
It was likely that an outbreak among students would occur during the year, but with these plans in place, the district can quickly respond and adapt to it, Johnson said. “These are things we have to plan for. We don’t want to be caught off guard.”
The district-level plan will be finalized by the school board on Monday, Aug. 10, with building-level plans discussed the third week of August. The final building plans will be presented by Monday, Aug. 24.
Johnson gave an overview of the “Bring The Bulldogs Back” plan on Monday evening before the board released it to the public. He reiterated how it was developed, using local, state and national guidelines. Occasionally, there are conflicting recommendations, and that added to the difficulty of the planning process. He added the plan will change further, depending on external factors, like how active COVID-19 is within the county.
He said some staff will be reassigned to new areas and new class spaces may be created to help with social distancing. Schedules will have to be adjusted for lunch, recess and dismissals.
Johnson recommended that two full-time substitute teachers be hired. In the past, many subs have been retired teachers but since older adults are at higher risk for COVID-19, they may not want to sub. He also suggested increasing a part-time custodial position to full-time.
The district is working on having a Chromebook for each student from first grade to 12th grade, Johnson said. Internet providers have been great at helping families get internet service and the school has provided mobile internet hot-spots as well. However, if more than one or two students are using the same connection it may slow it down, which is a challenge to consider if they move to the virtual learning plan.
For the buildings, hand sanitizer stations are being added, water fountains are being shut off except for the water bottle filling stations and nonessential furniture and materials are being removed to increase social distancing. Plexiglass dividers will be used in offices and in classrooms that have tables instead of desks.
For elementary students, they will likely stay within their class groups as much as possible. Shared objects will be limited.
Also, access to the school will be limited to just essential visitors. Parents dropping off kids at the classroom or volunteer readers would be limited.
Busing was also a problem. Most buses were operating at 50 percent capacity already so that helped with staggering seating. Students of the same household will be made to sit together and assigned seating will likely be implemented. Buses will be sanitized after each run.
Lunches and breakfasts may move to a barcode scanning system instead of having each student enter a code on a keypad. There would be no self-serve dishes and more food would likely be prepackaged. Food services would still be available during a larger quarantine or closure.
Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association had released plans for fall sports (read more on Page B1 in the Sports Section), Johnson said. Clubs and activities will need to submit safety plans before meeting or having events. It was not likely band and choir concerts would be held, but music teachers were researching how to have music classes without singing or playing instruments, for example.
Johnson said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did not recommend doing universal temperature screenings in schools. It was difficult to do and created stigma problems if a student had a high temperature in front of other students. The plan required students and families to self monitor and keep students at home if they had any symptoms of COVID-19.
If an outbreak or a positive case was in school, notifications will be sent out to families. No names would be released but a notice about a confirmed case may be associated with a classroom, grade level, activity or event.
If a student has symptoms but no test done, they will have to remain out of school for three days past the last symptoms.
If a student is a close contact with a positive case, they may have to quarantine for 14 days. If the case is in the home, they may need to stay out of school for 14–24 days after the positive case has been removed from the home.
If a student or staff member tests positive, they will have remain out of school for 10 days and get approval from public health to return to school.
Johnson said some of the timelines were quite long. However, these timelines may be amended as guidelines and recommendations change.
On Monday, the board also discussed masks. Staff will be required to wear masks during in-person teaching and it will be recommended that students wear masks as well. However, Johnson noted that 90 percent of families were against students wearing masks.
Board member Barb Reisner felt that students should be required to wear masks in common areas where physical distancing was difficult. Students would not wear them if it was not mandatory and if teachers had to wear them, so should students. “It only works when everyone wears it,” she said.
Board president Carri Traczyk said parents did not want students wearing masks and said doctors disagreed about mask use. Reisner said doctors did not disagree about mask use.
“I feel very strongly about that, especially when we open in the fall,” Reisner said, adding if they wanted to reopen, masks would help ensure the school stayed open and avoid outbreaks. Board member Steve Goulette also agreed with Reisner.
Johnson said mandating a mask for students was difficult and had to be done with the proper language and rules. If a group of students disobeyed, how would they handle that, he asked. This issue would be addressed in the building-level plans.
The district’s draft reopening plan can be viewed here.
The board is scheduled to meet next on Aug. 10 and Aug. 24.